The global movement that’s improving child health and wellbeing, nature connection and engagement in learning

Susie Smith, a passionate advocate of education for sustainability, discusses the success and impact of this year’s Outdoor Classroom Day. As the charity’s Development Manager, Susie is based in our office in Winchester and leads the annual advocacy campaign in the UK and ROI alongside the creation of new project ideas.

Outdoor Classroom Day is a global campaign to celebrate and inspire outdoor learning and play. On the day, thousands of schools around the world take lessons outdoors and prioritise playtime- showing not only how easy it can be to take learning outside but also how rewarding it is for both pupils and their teachers. This year, more than 3 million children worldwide took part (we suspect the actual figure is even higher) and almost 700,000 of those were here in the UK and Ireland.

The campaign’s roots go back to 2011 when, inspired by Tim Gill’s ‘Sowing the Seeds’ report, a group of educators and teachers created Empty Classroom Day. The following year a handful of schools participated in London. By 2015, 600 schools took part across 15 countries. As the campaign grew, the volunteers who were running it recognised the need for dedicated investment. So, in 2016, Semble (then called Project Dirt) partnered with Unilever’s Dirt is Good team to grow the movement and take it global. Outdoor Classroom Day was born.

Learning through Landscapes joined the movement in 2017, bringing our educational expertise and resources to the table and the campaign to the attention of teachers in a network of schools spanning Shetland to the Isles of Scilly and Kerrykeel to Ballydehob. Now, just three years later, we’re proud to say that the campaign dates- in May and November- are a key fixture in thousands of school diaries and act as a catalyst for more outdoor learning and play every day. The popularity of the November event in particular has been tremendous with a 260% increase in participation since 2017.

You might assume that Learning through Landscapes would advocate for more time outdoors and showcase the research which underpins our work (as indeed we do). We’re familiar with the growing body of academic work that shows that time outdoors during the school day improves children’s health, engages them in their learning and leads to a greater connection with nature. We also know that play not only teaches critical life skills such as resilience, teamwork and creativity, but is central to children’s enjoyment of childhood. But what’s the campaign evidence? Keen to conduct our own research, the campaign undertakes a survey of teachers after every Outdoor Classroom Day event and combines this data with that of every other national campaign that makes up the movement.

The global results are striking:
• 97% of teachers say that outdoor play is critical for children to reach their full potential
• 88% of teachers say that children are happier after playing outdoors
• 88% of teachers say that children are more engaged in learning when taking lessons outdoors, and
• 86% of teachers say that playing outdoors gives children a better understanding of the environment.

The benefits of more time outdoors, in the face of concerns about academic and skills development, mental health and wellbeing, and a growing environmental crisis are obvious. In addition, the campaign is proven to work. 44% of teachers tell us they have increased outdoor learning since getting involved in Outdoor Classroom Day and 32% have increased outdoor playtime every day.

Busy teachers benefit directly too. In the Natural Connections Demonstration Project report published in 2016 it was revealed that nine out of ten (90 per cent) staff found outdoor learning useful for delivering the curriculum, and more than seven out of ten (72 per cent) said that taking lessons outdoors was good for their own mental wellbeing.

So, will you help us spread the word and encourage more schools, teachers and parents to champion outdoor learning and play? As a supporter, you can register on our campaign website and add your voice to our global shared goals:

1. Outdoor learning is a part of every school day for every child and young person
2. Every child and young person has 90 minutes of playtime every day
3. Schools advocate for more time outdoors.

In 2020, we will celebrate Outdoor Classroom Day on Thursday 21 May 2020 and on Thursday 5 November there will be a second opportunity to participate with our ‘Outdoor Classroom Day does…’ event. This year our autumn date celebrated outdoor Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) learning- and we were delighted by the enthusiasm with which teachers took part. Will you join us next year? By signing up (to each campaign ‘day’) at www.outdoorclassroomday.org.uk you’ll ensure you stay up to date with our shared plans, receive research and tailored resources, and gain ideas to encourage more outdoor learning and play every day.

Thank you.

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